Ridgio makes the case for healing on ‘Evil for Evil the Inspired Album’

One of Chicago’s most talented musicians composes a nuanced tale of spiritual and mental growth for young Black men.

Chicago rapper Ridgio flexes a unique skill translating the visual arts to listeners ears on the executively produced Evil for Evil the Inspired Album based off the film of the same name. (Photo Credit: Ridgio / YouTube channel)

We’re living in a renaissance: More hip-hop artists are curating entire soundtracks for film projects. Kendrick Lamar worked on Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, Future on Superfly, and most recently, Cardi B worked with Halle Berry to produce Netflix’s Bruised soundtrack, a fittingly bold and audacious collection of Black women rappers for Berry’s directorial debut about a disgraced boxer’s career comeback.

Chicago native Ridgio, 25, added himself to the mix, challenging his musical dexterity to include soundtracks. On Evil for Evil the Inspired Album, the West Side raised rapper executively produces a body of work that translates long friend Amoz Wright’s Evil for Evil, a story about one young Black man’s reckoning with violence and trauma in the face of his burgeoning healing journey, set in the Village of Dixmoor (Chicago’s South Suburbs), into a 25-minute composition that is simultaneously its own existential experience.

Excerpts of the film of the same name act as transitions that propel the album forward, eloquently tying together a musical journey complete with Ridgio’s deep voice and brash lyrics which paint vivid images of theft, gun violence, and emotional conflict — all layered over rich, strident beats Ridgio is known for.

Album opener “Deceit” sets the tone for what listeners should expect. It’s the inner monologue of a young man rationalizing feelings of righteous rage, disgust, neglect, and disposability brought on by deception, reckoning with the question of emotional freedom and liberation. It’s the thoughts of a pained young Black man amongst many in a society where gender norms, toxic masculinity, stigmas around mental health and resources lack thereof yield a visceral outrage of repressed affections in the form of intra community violence.

“On High” is a highlight that reminds us humans are not meant to exist in isolation. That solidarity and community are key to actualizing self-love. It’s the only song where Ridgio is visibly absent, replaced with the chorus, including Harvey native Chase Kallure, who stars in the drama released last month, and graphic arts designer Malachi Wright. Alternative R&B singer Ray.is.Ray, known for bodying ChloexHalle, Adele, and Lauryn Hill covers on Instagram, layers the track with a voice that is spacious yet powerful without being overbearing, akin to Cleo Sol and Snoh Aalegra.

On the airy muse, this chorus is assisted by 99TheProducer, a 22-year-old Grammy nominated producer from Milwaukee and based in Chicago best known as a cello aficionado which has earned him credits playing for NoName, Kirk Franklin, Kanye West, and most recently the 2022 Grammy-nominated Masego EP Studying Abroad.

In line with themes of spirituality and faith, standout track “Boomerang” features bubbling lyrical whiz Mayir Lowly, who arguably murks Ridgio on his own track with a verse that sounds like 3 Stacks penned, riding the beat with a rapidfire flow similar to K-Dot. Listeners become the fly on the wall to what sounds like a private banter between two men disgusted with a society that (literally and figuratively) polices Black men, is infatuated with the social media “like” economy, and lacks a moral compass: Cause need I remind you? / That God put us all up on this earth and one day he’ll find you / Mark you with a ‘X’ on the day Devil be right behind you / Take yo’ life ’cause you ain’t keep that covenant that you tied to, Ridgio raps.

It’s a stark contrast from the eerie “No Mask,” where Ridgio boasts of stealing and killing: Know that we came from the po’ end / It’s the same reason why we poking / Main reason why we came in yo’ crib if you think we jokin’, he teases.

And for listeners who would negatively judge, he and Pharez scream over the piercing trumpets and ominous piano loop of “Anger” to provide a rebuke of those critics who don’t get “it” — the anger, the fear that comes with the constant threat of violence, none of it: They don’t really understand my pain / They don’t understand how much I’ve changed / They don’t really understand how I think / They don’t understand the thoughts in my brain.

The song wrestles with the grim reality that many of us don’t exactly know how we’d react when provoked until placed in that predicament, especially for those living in communities without the social, economic, and political capital such that violence is not commonplace: You ain’t never seen nobody with a glock and they pop you / When you never shot a opp but I gotta do it, Ridgio pleads. Pharez speaks of conflicting emotions of the urge to heal and grow but the ever present option of using violence to deal with conflict, thoughts he’s shared with his therapist, according to the song.

That juxtaposition is a perfect segue to the more gentle “Evil for Evil,” which operates as a storytelling device, bringing listeners down from the emotional rollercoaster and rewinding us to the beginning of the album, a re-introduction to the question we must all reckon with: What does freedom mean to you? The album perfectly ends with a poem on freedom and calls to reconsider thoughts of violence, the assumption being the alternative is your response to the freedom question.

Ridgio skillfully strikes a delicate balance between brazen and gentle. Evil is a disruption of disposability politics that challenges us all to reconsider binaries of “good” and “evil,” and consider a world where healing is a right rather than a privilege and redemption is possible for all.

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Amethyst J. Davis | Founder of the Harvey World Herald | Casey Fellow at NABJ Black News & Views | Cook County made | she/hers

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Amethyst J. Davis

Amethyst J. Davis

Amethyst J. Davis | Founder of the Harvey World Herald | Casey Fellow at NABJ Black News & Views | Cook County made | she/hers

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